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FDA Gives Restaurants an Extra Year to Display Calorie Counts

Mary K. Caffrey
The rule for restaurants and other food retailers is delayed until December 2016 to allow more discussions on how it will apply in many specific situations. Food labeling with calorie counts is mandated by the Affordable Care Act.
Consumers who want to know the calorie counts in restaurant meals will have to wait an extra year for that information to be easy to find, after FDA extended the deadline yesterday for a mandate of the Affordable Care Act.

Restaurants were scheduled to have that information displayed by December 1, 2015, but industry lobbyists convinced regulators that more time is needed, especially since FDA has yet to finalize rules for how restaurants must comply.

The rule will affect all food retailers with 20 or more locations, and it’s not just about restaurants. Foods in supermarkets and convenience stores and the popcorn at movie theaters will all come with information about how many calories are being consumed.

The announcement came in a statement from FDA Deputy Commissioner Michael R. Taylor, who said the agency agreed that more time was needed to clarify how rules will apply in many specific situations. While the rule was first proposed December 1, 2014, the agency is not expected to provide additional guidance until next month. Even some advocates for the labeling rule agreed that would not leave enough time to comply.

The August guidance, Taylor said, “will be labeled ‘draft’ to reflect the FDA’s openness to further comments and dialogue and to expanding the guidance as new questions arise.”

A few chain restaurants, including McDonald’s, already provide calorie count information. Some cities have put labeling requirements in place, and early results show this step not only gives  consumers more information but also prompts retailers to rethink their menus.

Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told USA Today that restaurant entrees dropped an average of 40 calories in Seattle after that city’s law took effect in 2009.

Food labeling is just one of the part of the effort to combat rising obesity in the United States. The report issued by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which will inform nutrition guidelines to be announced this year, called on Americans to consume less red and processed meat and follow a more plant-based diet.

Frank Hu, a member of DGAC, discussed the science behind the report at the April meeting of Patient-Centered Diabetes Care, presented by The American Journal of Managed Care and Joslin Diabetes Center.

 
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